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This review is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

EPIC INTENT Brian Coffey, Poems And Versions 1929-1990 (Dedalus Press) £8.95 pb

Samuel Beckett, writing in 1934, called Brian Coffey 'without question the most interesting of the youngest generation of Irish poets'. J.C.C. Mays's preface to this large selected poems takes up the same theme in pointing to Coffey's 'representative status alongside McGreevy, Devlin and Beckett as one of a generation who kept witness to a sort of writing in Ireland other than that promulgated by W.B. Yeats. Irish readers will easily recognize a cultural and political dimension to the argument …' Is Coffey's work, then anything more than an Irish historical curiosity?

Certainly, it's easy to understand Beckett's fulsome praise, for areas of Coffey's poetry are very like Beckett's own; by which I mean that they belong to a particular symbolist-derived modernist project to turn poetry into music and from there produce an abstracted but highly charged verse:

Toil each time to win charming
a flash of green blade
Your needles framed a lilac quilt
there was patience in my need
One of ours an afternoon
broken on glass doors
New ways now for long tides
Santonine your sign
'Amaranth'




There are echoes of Beckett too in Coffey's self-deprecating humour and in a verbal playfulness which produces a poem like 'HEADROCK' which takes the form of a mock exam paper but is written out so:

yingnowTHREECandamnationbeama
tterofroutineadminCouldyouorg
aniseandmaintainaninquisition


Coffey's poetry, then, is one that inhabits no ...


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